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Last Updated: Friday, 12 March, 2004, 11:49 GMT
Russian media go through the motions
President Vladimir Putin
President Putin has visited a number of submarines

Russia goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a president, with the result a foregone conclusion.

The incumbent, Vladimir Putin, is everyone's favourite, a status which media coverage of the campaign has done much to reinforce.

While there have been a few attempts to dent the president's image, these have been largely confined to sections of the press.

Other papers have found themselves left with only one issue to ponder - who will take second place.

Mr Putin kicked off his bid for re-election on 12 February with a speech to his supporters at a Moscow university, to which state-owned TV channels devoted a whole live programme and large parts of their evening news coverage.

By contrast, NTV, the main commercial channel, set aside a modest four minutes of air time further down its running order.

This later became an established pattern during the campaign.

War games

Five days later, a major naval exercise in northern Russia gave Mr Putin his next significant photo opportunity. And once again, the two state channels were only too happy to oblige.

The president was shown inspecting a submarine, exchanging gifts with naval officers, sharing a meal with them in the mess, and all this while wearing a snappy sailor's uniform.

State TV's coverage of the visit, the Kommersant newspaper observed, ranged from "optimistic" to "exultant". But both programmes omitted to mention that one submarine had failed to test-launch a ballistic missile.

NTV, on the other hand, jumped on the revelation. "This latest failure by the pride of the Russian submarine fleet is not likely to gain it any brownie points," the channel said.

Another commercial station, Ren TV, went even further. Dismissing the navy's claims that no launch had been planned, it drew parallels with the misinformation that followed the sinking of the Kursk in 2000, one of the lowest points of Mr Putin's time in office.

Nevertheless, it was senior navy commanders, and not the president, who were left with tarnished reputations.


Criticism of Mr Putin has surfaced in the press from time to time, although the papers enjoy far less reach than their broadcast counterparts.

Novaya Gazeta newspaper, for example, questioned Mr Putin's dismissal of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov less than three weeks before the elections.

"The reasons behind his decision are incomprehensible, even to his dedicated followers," the paper observed.

It also accused the state TV stations of foul play after they refused to broadcast advertisements for one of Mr Putin's campaign rivals, Ivan Rybkin.

"It is perfectly obvious," the paper said, "that we have run into a form of censorship."

On the foreign policy front, the Vremya Novostei daily said Mr Putin had failed to deliver on promises to strengthen Russia's military influence overseas.

But expressions of disapproval such as these have been few and far between.

Many papers have long since concluded that Mr Putin's re-election is inevitable, with a couple of dailies, Kommersant and Novyye Izvestiya choosing to focus instead on the contest for the runner-up spot.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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